Fly-By

We’ve been having a string of clear evenings in the Bay Area, perfect for watching the nightly fly-by of the International Space Station and the shuttle Atlantis. When the shuttle and the station are docked, they appear as a single, bright star moving from (roughly) west to east. The Atlantis undocked early this morning and rapidly moved away from the station. This evening one of the ships appeared in the northwest, then the other–the space station trailed by the shuttle, I think. From San Francisco, they seemed to move nearly straight overhead, then rapidly vanished into the Earth’s shadow when they were still high above the horizon.

It always surprises me a little not to see others out staring at these objects as they pass over, or that passers-by don’t ask what I’m looking at. A big-city rule, I guess: avoid the harmless-looking guy staring into the sky just in case he’s a lunatic. One time, a co-worker happened upon me watching the space station go over a nearby park. “What happened?” she asked. “Did a bird shit on you?” I told her about the space station and pointed at it. She glanced toward the sky, gave me a look that said she didn’t quite believe anything like that was up there at the moment, and moved on.

Tonight in Berkeley, meantime: Kate knew the twin apparitions of space station and shuttle would become visible at 6:22. She called several neighbors to alert them. While I watched from the lower western edge of Potrero Hill, she had nearly a dozen people out in the street here in our neighborhood for the three-minute show. That’s just one of the things I love about this block: that people will come out to see a night-time sky display–lunar eclipses, comets, meteor showers, whatever’s on tap–and just hang out for a few minutes.

There’s another double-viewing Thanksgiving night. Check your local listings on NASA’s Satellite Sightings Information page.

Space Visitors, Again

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As I just wrote to my brother John;

“… I wasn’t so lucky with the pictures last night. It

started clouding up about an hour before sunset, and

the space station and ISS were crossing well to the

north (maximum elevation was about 27 degrees). So it

was doubtful they’d be as bright even if they were

visible. At the scheduled time — the shuttle was

supposed to appear at 6:03, the ISS at 6:04 — I

couldn’t see anything, but I released the shutter

anyway. After about 30 seconds, I could see something

moving dimly above the clouds in the northwest. After

the first 60-second shot, I reaimed the camera further

east, and realized there were two objects moving by; I

had missed the first, the shuttle, but both were

clearly visible as they crossed through the north to

the northeast. I tried another 60-second shot and got

both of them, though they don’t look nearly as bright

as they did just looking at them. Looking at the shots

now, there was so much ambient light that the sky

became very washed out, and a shorter exposure might

have shown them better Something to remember for next

time.

“Still — pretty amazing stuff. I was seeing them about

four hours after they had separated; if you assume

they were exactly a minute apart, that means the

distance between them was just under 300 miles (the

distance they travel in 60 seconds at 17,500 mph).

Looks like it will be too cloudy here to see the

shuttle again before it lands.”

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Space Visitors

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The International Space Station and space shuttle (docked) passing nearly overhead 5:42 p.m. this evening; they moved from southwest (bottom right) to northeast (top left). Forty second time exposure; pretty sure the brighter stars just to the left of the vehicles’ path are part of the great square of Pegasus.

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